Today's piece on Patrice Bergeron is the second in a 10-part series over the next two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand headed into next season after last spring's Stanley Cup playoff run.
Patrice Bergeron's future with the Bruins is already mapped out. Barring anything truly crazy, Bergeron is going to retire a member of the Bruins, have his No. 37 raised up to the rafters soon afterward and be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as one of the best two-way centers of all-time.
That much has been assured as Bruins President (and one of the B's all-time greats) Cam Neely has nothing but good things to say about Bergeron's ranking within the pantheon of Black and Gold greats at this point in his career.
"He's up there. He's as professional as they come, he's prepared and he works hard," said Neely in an interview with NBC Sports Boston. "He's such a good leader by example and then when he does decide to talk. He ranks up there as one of the best Bruins to ever put on the uniform."
Certainly all of that took on another level when he made a pregame speech to his B's teammates ahead of Game 6 in St. Louis that assured a win, and brought the series back to Boston. Unfortunately, of course, Bergeron and Co. couldn't close the deal in Game 7.
He's still capable of being a No. 1 center at 34 years old entering his 16th NHL season and the 32 goals and 79 points in 65 games is the best offensive output of his NHL career. As with fellow longtime B's great Zdeno Chara, however, Bergeron is no longer as young and capable of a massive workload as he was earlier in his career.
Bergeron missed 17 games this past season after missing 18 games the season prior, and he was hampered in the last few rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a groin issue that left him with just one goal, four points and a minus-4 rating in the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. The injuries have also kept him from winning his NHL-record fifth Selke Trophy in the last couple of seasons. It's hard to envision Bergeron staying completely healthy through an 82-game regular season at this point in his career based on the hard miles he's logged over the last 15 seasons, and based on the need for him to play - and play a lot - in all situations.
Without a young No. 1 center replacement on the horizon for the Bruins, it will be up to Bergeron to again carry the load this upcoming season.
But the Bruins will manage his workload, manage his responsibilities and make certain they can get as much out of him as they can when it really matters: in the postseason.
"We started doing that a few years ago with where he starts on face-offs. A lot of times he would start in the D-zone and you have to go 200 feet to score. He was relied upon to take a lot of important face-offs in the D-zone, and we changed that," said Neely. "We gave that responsibility to other players and that would give Bergeron a chance to start in the offensive zone. Obviously he's a top penalty killer and he's on the top power play unit, so he's going to play a lot."
What will be interesting is what they do with Bergeron's line for the bulk of next season. Will David Pastrnak slot back up with Bergeron and Brad Marchand to keep the Perfection Line going after they had a bit of a power outage in the Stanley Cup Final?
Or will next season be the year that Bergeron and Marchand are paired with a younger player like Anders Bjork, or an experiment like Charlie Coyle is tried on their wing to give them the size, strength and power around the net that they most definitely lacked during the Cup Final vs. the big, strong Blues group?
That question will be answered over the course of next season where Bergeron will be expected to again be excellent as he's been for the last 15 seasons in a brilliant, special career as one of the all-time greats in Bruins history.
Key stat: 1.22 – the points per game that Bergeron averaged this season in the best offensive campaign of his career. It was the first NHL season where No. 37 was a point-per-game player and bodes well for his offense over the next few seasons.
Bergeron in his own words: "It's a lot of hard work to get to that point and to put yourself in that position and then it's really tough to come out empty-handed. At this point it's hard to focus on anything except that we didn't accomplish what we set out to do."
The biggest question he faces: Bergeron is at a point in his career when injuries will come, and when heavy usage could compromise some of the greatness that he brings to the ice. So making certain the Bruins can give Bergeron breathers during the long 82-game regular season will be vital, and finding younger players to ease some of his defensive and penalty-killing burden makes sense given his importance at the offensive end of the ice.
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